New church buildings tend to come in one of two styles: old-timey faux colonial or big-box-store functional.
Members of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church wanted neither.
The members of this Raleigh congregation on the edge of N.C. State University have long been known for their willingness to take risks, and the 9,800-square-foot addition they dedicated Sunday is only the latest example.
Affectionately dubbed the "shiny diner," the metal-shingled two-story addition is intended to contrast with the brick Romanesque-revival 1950 structure on Hillsborough Street. Where the old building has narrow vertical windows, the new addition has wide horizontal windows. Where the old building suggested a Moorish castle, the new building is unabashedly modern and suggests an ease with technology and innovation.
"We are this welcoming, inclusive congregation, and our building screamed 'fortress,' " said the Rev. Nancy Petty, the co-pastor. "Part of the plan for the addition was to project to our community who we are."
Pullen, long known for its liberal stands on social issues, wanted to claim yet another issue with its new addition. The church, which elected women as deacons in 1927 and accepted gays and lesbians as full members in 1992, has now embraced the cause of environmentalism.
The new building, which cost $3.7 million, takes green technology further than any other church in the Triangle. Most notably, the space will be cooled and heated by a geothermal heat pump. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says geothermal pumps are the most energy-efficient and environmentally clean way to cool and heat a building.
But it cost $170,000 more than a traditional heat pump and involved drilling 20 wells to depths of 375 feet to tap into the Earth's natural heat. Church members expect the system will pay for itself over time with the energy savings.
"Our more passionate, Earth-friendly members suggested it," said Regina Parham, who led the design and construction committee. "We doubted it would get anywhere. But after being educated, we became sold on it."
In addition, the church installed a 3,500-gallon cistern to catch rainwater runoff and a rooftop garden over part of the building that will not only create a space for plants but will also help reduce daytime heating needs.
The metal shingles on the exterior are made of 95 percent recycled galvanized steel arranged in a bricklike pattern. Over time, their shiny exterior should fade to a duller bluish-gray tone.
"They said they wanted to be as green as possible, and they never wavered from that," said Ellen Weinstein of Dixon Weinstein Architects, the Carrboro firm that designed the addition. "In many ways, they were building a prototype."
More room for good
Of course, church members didn't just want a building to show off their green credentials. The congregation, which has 715 members and about 1,200 active participants, needed more space. Its children and youth programs have doubled in size over the past 20 years, and some Sunday school classes were meeting in hallways and closets.
But what sold members, who have never been keen on growth for growth's sake, was the possibility that the addition could expand their mission offerings. For years, congregants have struggled to help the homeless people on Hillsborough Street who come to the church door. The new space has showers, a laundry room and a computer and telephone space for their use.
A larger space, to be called the Hope Center, will allow support groups and others to meet in the building. The addition also includes a fellowship hall, a kitchen and a 125-seat chapel, where the wood floor has been painted with a labyrinth design.
The addition's most attractive feature may be its two outdoor patios. The church has never been a place where people could linger outdoors after services. Now it will have inviting spaces, one outside the Hope Center on the bottom floor and one at the church entrance, beside the rooftop garden.
Even indoors, the new space makes the best use of sunlight, creating a warm alternative to the artificial light of the old building.
"We wanted a place that would be light on the Earth and a joy to the soul," said Bob Rodriguez, a member of the design and construction committee who is a dedicated environmentalist.
But the church's most radical move may have been its decision to forgo construction on undeveloped land. The addition sits on half of the church's old parking lot.
In this respect, the new addition is truly groundbreaking. At a time when most churches consider the accessibility and availability of parking to be critical for Sunday attendance, Pullen members agreed to do away with 14 of their 28 parking spaces. That means nearly everyone has to park off-site for Sunday services. Fortunately, the church's neighbors -- the Holiday Inn Brownstone, Lutheran Family Services and BB&T -- agreed to allow members to park on their properties. And then of course, there's street parking.
"It required us scaling back on things, such as parking space," Petty said. "But it came out of our theology. It's all about how we're to live in relation to the Earth."
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